Great Video About a Teacher in our STEM Institute

Teachers and students doing STEM

You can tell from the bulk of my most recent posts that a big part of my job right now is about facilitating our STEM institute. I actually have another post about telescopes waiting in the wings for after I get a couple of questions answered. This video was produced by the Washoe County School District to celebrate Mike Ismari’s STEM class at Dilworth Middle School STEM Academy. Mike signed up for our STEM institute right away last year because he had received a grant to buy several models of drones (you mostly see them in the video, but a few he checked out from the institute make an appearance as well). Mike wanted to learn about the ethics and safety of utilizing drones in the classroom as well as the pedagogy to consider. Our institute is still ongoing and will be pretty much right up to the end of the school year. I think you’ll enjoy the video … it’s does a great job of showcasing Mike and more importantly his students and the learning they are part of. Enjoy!!

Learning is messy!

 

Nevada STEM Underwater and Aerial Vehicle Computer Science Institute

I shared on Twitter not long ago, “The good news is I got a grant! The bad news is I got a grant!” There is too much truth in that dichotomy, but in spite of all the extra work and rules and policies and bids and other “red tape” to be dealt with to purchase the supplies and organize the classes … this is an awesome opportunity for all concerned.

The grant requirements demanded a focus on middle and high school teachers and students, computer programing, and a STEM learning emphasis. You’ll note by the name of the grant (see the title of this post) that the grant department folks that helped in editing, implored me to mention as many aspects of the program as possible in the title.

The choice of underwater and aerial vehicles was an easy one … Nevada has been designated one of 5 states where regulations about drones have been eased to encourage research, testing and innovation in drone use (the fact that Nevada contains huge expanses of open land and 4 seasons of weather may have helped). In addition, with the emphasis on encouraging students to study computer programming … and the fact that these vehicles can be programmed … using drones in class to motivate students to engage in both seemed like a perfect match.

CgDx3-2UAAMh6Et24 teachers, 2 middle school and 2 high school teachers from each of the 6 school districts I serve will be chosen to participate. We will start by doing 2 days of computer programming and 3D modeling utilizing the ncLab online course guided by its developers (a local startup company). Just enough to get teachers started in programming, but also to acquaint them with the online course since it will be available for them and all their students for the next year. I felt that if teachers had even some experience with programming and the online course they would be more likely to use it with their students. Students will have access to the course at school, but also at home or anywhere they can get online, so they can go as far as they like.

Each teacher will receive a Parrot Minidrone Rolling Spider – the kind you control with your phone or pad device, and a waterproof (to 10 meters) and drop proof (from 1.5 meters) digital camera to archive their learning in the institute and student learning in their classrooms. ParrotMiniDrone

Next, teachers will spend 3 days learning about aerial vehicles from Kirk Ellern (a former high school physics teacher) at AboveNV – a local startup. They’ll fly their “Parrots” and learn how to program them (after the institute they’ll have 4 sets of 10 Parrots they can check out for use in their classrooms). After that introduction to aerial vehicles we’ll move on to Phantom 3 Advanced drones. Here we will put the programming we learned (and note what we want to learn more about) in the ncLab course to work. Four sets of three Phantom 3 drones will be available for checkout by participating teachers forphantom3-drone-300x200 use in their classrooms.

The next 5 days of class will be spent partially assembling and utilizing OpenROV 2.8 underwater vehicles. “Maker skills” will be emphasized as teachers will be taught soldering, wiring, gluing and more to prepare the vehicles for use.  6 OpenROV 2.8’s will be available for checkout by participating teachers. The 2.8’s are operated using a laptop and tether and are capable of depths up to 100 meters. They come with a camera – video/photos and sound can be recorded on the connected laptop … there’s even room for small payloads for doing research – another opportunity to use those computer programming skills as well. Alex Forrest from the Tahoe Environmental Research Center and the University of California, Davis, will lead this portion of the class. Alex has done research in Lake Tahoe utilizing those big “torpedo sized” vehicles you’ve probably seen on the news. He is just back from 3 years in Tasmania.

OpenROV 2.8 Underwater Vehicles

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Throughout the school year the course instructors, all specialists in their fields, will be available to consult teachers, visit classrooms and provide follow-up instruction – to me this is a key component of the grant.

Field trip buses will be paid for so participating teachers can take their classes to a water source (lake, pond, wetland, river/stream pool) to operate and do research with the OpenROV’s.

The institute should start up in August and the initial classes will be done by October. I’ll post updates here. I’ll also set up YouTube/Flickr/Wiki and other accounts to archive our progress.

Learning is messy!

Waterwheel Challenge – or Ricewheel Challenge

A Maker / Engineering Inquiry Lesson

I endeavor to post lessons here I’ve observed or facilitated when I find them valuable. I’m not always successful in posting them quickly, as my bloated draft blog post file will confirm … as will my constant frustration these days with lack of writing time. But this is a really good one, so I felt extra motivated to get it out there.

Grade level-wise, depending on how you set this up, this could really be a Pre-K – 16 lesson. There are many, many ways to take this, including which variables to control for and the goal of the inquiry. In this case it was lifting weight, but it could be speed or number of turns per specific amount of rice (I share a few ideas below). You could charge for materials (a common way to bring more math/data into the inquiry) and challenge students to get the biggest bang for the buck. Anyway here is the challenge:

WaterWheelChallenge

 

 

 

(We substituted lifting 150 grams of weight for the 15 washers.)

As part of an energy project one group of my 5th graders, a few years back, designed a waterwheel and we actually ran water through it which was messy (usually a bonus for me), and caused the waterwheel to fall apart when the materials got soaked … which is a great challenge for them to overcome on the one hand, but a real time suck you might not want on the other. You decide. To overcome that issue Dr. David Crowther, from the Raggio Research Center for Science, Technology Engineering and Math, borrowed an idea he got from elsewhere, tweaked it some and therefore we used rice instead of water to power our “waterwheels.”

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Here are the materials the middle and high school science teachers participating in our training had to work with. They could only use these materials, but we didn’t limit them in the amount which could be another challenge to overcome.

They also had these wood dowels to use as axles, note the dowels were of various circumferences and participants could choose any size or even change axles (some added tape and even pulleys made from paper plates to make the diameter larger for example ). Dowels

 

Participants formed groups of 3 and got right to work. One requirement was that groups had to develop a written plan and sketch before they could start construction:

 

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After 45 minutes of initial design and construction time each wheel was tested. A large plastic trash bin was turned into a test facility by taping 2 large washers to the top that the dowels fit in.

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WaterWheelPour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The challenge was to lift 150 grams of weight as high as possible with 2 liters of rice. Here is slow motion of one wheel. Note the weights being lifted:

After an initial trial participants were asked to improve and redesign their waterwheels. Then we did one more trial. Here was the winner:

 

Next we increased the weight gradually and this same design won by lifting 500 grams about halfway. In the classroom what we did in about 2 hours would probably be 2-3 days. And you could easily go much, much deeper. Possibilities include, but are in no way limited to:

  1. Examining the best designs and then having everyone start over from scratch. BTW, the slow motion was shot with my iPhone. Think of using that feature to really see what is going on to help in redesign and also how you pour the rice. Slow motion has implications for data collection leading to redesign in many activities!
  2. Using the same waterwheels but change the task to spinning the fastest with no weight attached … did the designs that lifted the most weight spin fastest? Why? Why not?
  3. Start over and design a wheel that spins fastest as the goal.
  4. Allow different materials or limit materials even further.
  5. Increase and/or decrease the amount of rice allowed from 2 liters.
  6. What design uses the least amount of rice to pull the given weight to the top?
  7. One photo above shows a design utilizing a pulley made from paper plates. That design failed as it could not develop enough torque to overcome the extra load the pulley provided. Can you design a wheel that would work with the pulley (they didn’t have enough time to redesign in this case).
  8. Thinking of the pulley example, can you attach something else that the pulley would cause to turn? Perhaps transforming the lift into some other kind of work or energy? Turn an electric generator? Pump water?

Please add your ideas in the comments.

In addition, as I’ve stated many times, this kind of learning is also a powerful integration to other subjects – collect data and crunch it in math, write (and blog to share!!!) about the procedures, learning, data, what was interesting … and perhaps invite/connect with students elsewhere to participate and share their experiences, data, photos. Lots of powerful ways to integrate technology as well – photos, video, blogging, wiki pages, video-conferencing between schools and more. Creative writing stories from the waterwheels point of view explaining what the experience was like for them … this again makes students have to be very observant about everything that happens to the wheel so they can accurately explain what the wheel experiences with lots of description. “When the tiny white grains of rice hit me I was taken by surprise, and at first the grains felt like tiny stinging bees, but I quickly got used to the sensation and then was exhilarated as I began to turn and quickly picked up speed ….” History lessons tied to the development of waterwheels in history and their impact on society. Are waterwheels still being developed in new innovative ways? So much here to research and learn from.

Learning is messy!

Use Powerful Tools Powerfully

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure to work, via various social networking sites, with Kathy Cassidy, a teacher “of six year olds,” in Saskatchewan, Canada, according to her class blog. We’ve even met face to face at conferences. My class (4th – 6th graders) shared blog posts and comments with her students a few times, and we Skyped at least once. Kathy recently shared a post on the Powerful Learning Practice blog about “Five Ways To Use Skype.” Some of the aspects of the post I want to highlight are that yes, ‘even’ 6 year olds can connect online in ways that provide powerful learning opportunities for them, and Kathy makes the point that, “If we are going to use technology, we need to use it well.” Check out her post, she shares some great ideas on connecting your students.

Reading Kathy’s post had me re-visiting a point that has been made by others (and me) over the years, but a point that needs repeating … repeatedly, because it is such a vital point to make.

There are very powerful learning tools available on the “inter webs,” and many are free to use … video conferencing tools like Skype, Google Hangouts … blogs, wikis, online photo and video archive sites (like Flickr), and many more. As Kathy and others point out there are powerful ways to use these tools that connect students, experts, facilitate collaboration globally, provide the ability to design, produce, edit and share content in any subject, and so much more (and yes, occasionally just to do something fun or cool!).

There are many of us that have been working very hard to spread the word about how these tools facilitate new, innovative and engaging approaches to learning. How they require teaching our students to be active learners instead of teaching them to be taught … sit quietly but attentively, raise your hand if you have a question, then wait for me (as the teacher) to decide this is an OK or appropriate time in my lesson to break from my cadence, my lesson, and answer your question or listen to your comment … now … or not.

So what’s my point already? It’s the point Kathy made: “If we are going to use technology, we need to use it well.

Ever since personal computers and other technologies were introduced, their praises as learning tools have been sung from the highest rafters. Unfortunately, much more often than not, when technology has been purchased with improving education, improving student learning, improving student achievement or (yuck) improving student test scores as the goal … the technology or tool has been the focus with too little thought or professional development or teacher autonomy considered to actually use the technology in ways that empower students and/or their learning. The results therefore have been ugly and have lead to a backlash about the actual value of technology and connectedness as pathways to learning.

In addition, the tunnel-vision of test scores in language arts and math have turned too many computer labs and other technologies into drill and practice, test prep and “what apps can we get that will engage the students” dead ends. That use of technology as learning tool is like buying a Ferrari just to listen to the great stereo while its parked in the garage.

There is nothing wrong, especially as a way to gain experience with the technology, to do a video-conference or two that is mostly about saying hi to a class in another state or country and share some basic information. But if that’s all you do … then that’s probably not “using it well.” Collaboration, sharing and analyzing data, simultaneously performing an experiment or activity to see if location changes the results, read alouds between students, an international poetry festival between classes … that’s more like it. Students tend to be more engaged, spend more time editing, ask more clarifying questions … because these students from somewhere else, and maybe others, are going to see it … I want it to be good.

Blogging is awesome! Blogging is writing for sure. But its also posting photos, videos, podcasts, vid-casts … and because blogging is a two way street (because others can leave comments) its a conversation. Students can post any kind of writing you do in class, and yes, I’ve even had them post a written response about their reading. But also creative writing, science experiments, reports on any subject, short stories, long stories, explanations, diagrams and representations of math problems and concepts (that other students from around the world can see, discuss and argue about). But also photo essays, video clips of anything, pieces they write just because they want to (my new puppy, my birthday party, what happened when we got a flat tire, I was so scared when …) … and again, these pieces are published to the world … and the world responds, and that leads to more writing and thinking deeply about the response, and sharing ideas and realizing what is different about living in different parts of our city, state, country, world.

I could go on explaining the power of wikis, photo and video sharing sites and more. But that will just belabor things.

Too often we utilize technology and the web because they seem to be automatically engaging for students .. at least for awhile. If we aren’t learning as educators how and why to use these powerful learning tools and opportunities to enable our students to do important, meaningful work. If we allow ourselves to feel unprepared or stupid or phobic about using technology and perceive that our students know more about it, or worse, see it as a way to keep students busy in the computer lab while we grade papers or do other “teacher stuff.” (yeah I know that you probably don’t get enough prep time). Then we are leaving its promise and capacity as a learning facilitator, connector and collaboration tool on the cutting room floor. We might as well not bother with it.

So as Kathy said, “If we are going to use technology, we need to use it well.

Learning is messy!

Online Presentation: STEM – What Does That Really Look Like In The Classroom

On Saturday, April 25, 2015, I’ll be delivering an online version of one of my most requested presentations: “STEM – What Does That Really Look Like In The Classroom.” I’ll share real STEM projects right from my classroom. The projects will showcase  integrated examples that demonstrate how hands-on STEM provides engaging and motivating opportunities for collaboration and problem solving that when coupled with students communicating and presenting their process and results leads to powerful language arts and math learning. This work isn’t shoehorned into your day, it becomes your day, at least for periods of time.

NSTA Virtual Conference STEM Today For a Better Tomorrow

My presentation is just one of many. The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) is producing an entire day virtual conference on STEM they are calling, “STEM Today For A Better Tomorrow.” 

From their web page:

“The future is bright for careers in STEM. However, too many students do not have a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to pursue careers in these fields. In the STEM Today For a Better Tomorrow virtual conference we make the case for the role that STEM education plays for students interested in following a STEM career.”

The conference begins at 10 am Eastern Time and offers a wide range of speakers and presentations. The agenda for the day with descriptions of the sessions is posted on the site as well. One I am looking forward to is offered by Captain Barrington Irving. I recently  co-taught a model hands-on STEM inquiry lesson to teachers demonstrating the power of integrating language arts, math and art. As part of that lesson teachers in the class read an article about the exploits of Captain Irving:

Barrington Irving“In 2007, Captain Barrington Irving became the youngest person to fly solo around the globe. On his 97-day journey, he flew 30,000 miles in a single-engine plane called Inspiration. “

AND –

“Barrington Irving Will set the stage for the conference making the case for STEM education as a path for students’ pursuit of STEM careers.” 

Note that attendance to the all day virtual conference costs $99 to non-NSTA members and $79 dollars for members. You can read a description of the conference and see the agenda for the day that begins at 10 am Eastern Time and continues until 6 pm Eastern Time.

Learning is messy!

 

 

 

The “High Hopes Project” Explained

This is cross posted at the “High Hopes Project” blog
Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake from about 29,000 meters (95,000 feet)

The “High Hopes Project” is designed to be a model global STEM learning project. But what is it really and how does it work? Who is involved? How can my students and I be involved?

Last year we dropped GoPro cameras 45 feet deep in Lake Tahoe and pulled them up to almost 30,500 meters (100,000 feet) attached to a high altitude weather balloon to investigate how that would work. No students were involved in that trial.

Well that has changed. We (see below) are planning launches from several Reno and Fernley, Nevada, area schools this spring. Tentative dates are the last week in April, and from crystal clear Lake Tahoe in June. These launches will include payloads designed by local students. At least 2 of the payloads will carry the “High Hopes” of the world to near space and release them. Teachers and their students (that’s you!) can participate by writing and submitting your “High Hopes via a Google Spreadsheet or via Twitter.

We are collecting “High Hopes” for your school, community and the world, from students and others around the globe – we’ve already received hundreds from local students, but also students from as far away as Norway and France.

Here are more specifics about the project including ways for you or anyone to join in:

Sparks High School students are designing and building a water pressure gauge to track water pressure from 45 meters (150 feet) deep in Lake Tahoe to the surface. An air pressure gauge will monitor air pressure to 30,500 meters (100,000 feet) or higher. Students from around the world will be invited to research to determine what will happen to the water and air pressure during flight, and we will share the data we bring back so they can assess their understanding.

Sparks High Students are also challenged to engineer a way to reel in the 45 meters (150 feet) of line with the cameras and water pressure gauge up to the bottom payload. Leaving the cameras dangling far below could cause instability during the flight, so this is an important engineering problem to solve. The students also designed the actual payloads to carry the “High Hopes” of the world up to 30,500 meters (100,000 feet), and then release the tiny strips of paper they will be printed on to spread in the atmosphere – Now they’ve turned those payloads over to Sparks Middle School students to install the release mechanism they are designing.

Sparks Middle School students will be learning about writing computer code and designing a system utilizing Ardunio micro-computers.  They will conduct low altitude tests using model rocketry to determine an effective way of accurately measuring altitude using the Arduino system and then use the knowledge gained from these tests to design a system to release the high hopes of the world at at least two different altitudes as the balloon is in flight.

Students at Cottonwood Elementary in Fernley (a K-4 school) are designing special high hopes to glide or helicopter to the ground – these high hopes will be launched at a lower altitude, around 6100 meters (20,000 feet) so the atmosphere is thick enough for them to take flight. They will also perform experiments utilizing bio-engineering to find a substance to treat the paper with so it decomposes as fast as possible once the “Hopes” hit the ground. The elementary students will utilize their new blogging skills and other means to encourage everyone to submit their “High Hopes.”

One payload will include colorful party balloons inflated to different sizes. We challenge students everywhere to research to determine what will happen to them as they rise through atmospheric layers to 30,500 meters (100,000 feet). Onboard cameras will record what occurs and we will share the photos/video obtained so students globally can see what transpired. In addition, we will monitor temperature and other data during the flights and share that data as well.

The High Hopes Project is planned as a model global STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) project so teachers, students and the community are better educated in the powerful learning a quality integrated STEM approach provides. There will be creative writing ideas, math and more offered along the way. These lesson ideas and challenges will be linked on our project Wiki page. Check back often to see new information and challenges.

You Can Participate too! Teachers and students (really anyone!) can participate by: 1) Brainstorming, writing and submitting their “High Hopes” for their school, community and the world. 2) Participating in the science, engineering and math challenges we offer. 3) Follow our progress via the various social networks we are utilizing to inform and include the world (see links below).

There are other aspects of this project that are developing and we will share later as well.

Additionally, we have partnered with the University of Nevada, Reno, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Departments. They are experts in launching high altitude balloons, but are also encouraging undergraduate and graduate level engineering students to work with and mentor students at Sparks High School, Sparks Middle School and Cottonwood Elementary School.

This is a collaborative project between Nevada’s Northwest Regional Professional Development Program, the 21st Century Division of WCSD, the Lyon County School District, the Washoe County School District, the University of Nevada, Reno,   and students from around the world.

Here are links to our online resources – this is how we are modelling the “T” part of STEM – these links will also provide you much more specific information about the project:

Our blog: http://highhopesproject.edublogs.org

Our Web Site: http://highhopesproject.net

Our Twitter page: https://twitter.com

Our Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/127331960@N04/sets/

Our YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCM6JGyKhW2OXYiY9gh3J-Lg/videos

Learning is messy!!!

Why should education leaders embrace digital technologies in their schools?

Why should education leaders embrace digital technologies in their schools? leadershipday2014_01-300x240

1) If you are in a state that adopted the “Common Core State Standards” (CCSS) you really don’t have a choice. There are many (yes many) English Language Arts standards alone that require students as young as kindergarten to use technology to read, produce and publish digital content and to collaborate in doing so. Just a few examples from the CCSS:

K – 12 – Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

K-12 – With guidance and support from adults, explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.

6th grade – (NOTE: by 6th grade the “… guidance and support from adults …” is gone. 6th graders are to master this standard on their own) Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting.

5th grade –  Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).

I’m not sure how we get our students to the mastery of these standards, and many others without ubiquitous access to and utilization of the technologies required.

2) Collaboration – This was already stated in the standards above, but those were specifically language arts standards. Communication and collaboration are already key to being educated, but also in getting a job. Learning to collaborate with the student next to you in class or in your group is great, but technology makes it easy (yes, easy) to collaborate globally. Will it be “good enough” if students just learn to collaborate in class? Will that foster solid collaboration skills with today’s (and tomorrow’s) technologies? Not that getting a job is the only reason to learn solid collaboration skills, but getting a job without having those skills is not getting easier. Mastering all the ways collaboration is leveraged personally and using technology is vital.

3) Programming and design – 3D printing (did you know they are printing whole houses, food and blood vessels already?), also –  software development, engineering, graphics, architecture, transportation, art, medicine,  and much more all rely on programming and design skills … this is what is happening now in fields with good paying jobs.

4) Inventing (often referred to as “making” these days) – This is hands on and motivating and requires the skills developed through pedagogy that includes all of the above.

5) Problem solving – (See above)

So you think children are already mastering these skills and technologies on their own by using their smart phones and other technology 24/7? Ok, let’s see how that works out with your students.

I don’t pretend that I’ve included all the reasons that leaders should consider (please add your own in the comments). But these are not easy or cheap changes that have to happen. We’re not going to provide the technology and professional development and commitment to change on the cheap. Only real leadership will get us there.

Learning is messy!

Lake Tahoe Launch … Messy and Worth It – The Short Version

So after last week’s debacle … we learned to be patient and wait for better wind conditions. Here’s the short version of what happened. We inflated on the beach at DL Bliss State Park:

 

Paddle boarded the balloon out where the clear water of Lake Tahoe was about 45 feet deep:

 

With a snorkeler for help (he also shot some great video with a GoPro I’ll share another time):

 

Next we launched with 2 GoPro cameras 40 feet deep in the lake at the end of a line and 4 more on other payloads:

 

Here are some of the views we got:

For size reference: Lake Tahoe is almost 22 miles long and a bit more than 11 miles wide. (35 km long X 19 km wide). The lake is 1645 feet deep (501 meters).

Lake Tahoe, Carson City, Nevada, Reno and Pyramid Lake from 90,000 feet + (near space)

 

Then the balloon burst somewhere between 95,000 and 100,000 feet – follow the link to see the frame by frame of the burst:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/101610181@N02/sets/72157644958349838/

And the video:

 

 

Then it landed and we went and got it:

There was some animal byproduct to deal with:

It was a great day!

Here is a link to more photos.

NOTE: This launch was part of a project being developed by the University of Nevada, Reno- Mechanical Engineering Department, the 21st Century Division of the Washoe County School District, and Nevada’s Northwest Regional Professional Development Program (who I work for now). We were trying out some technologies and possible engineering and science problems to turn over to area K-12 students to solve for a similar launch next April or May – still in the planning stages.

Learning is messy!

Ball Chain Inquiry – STEM

Yeah, I know. Ball chain inquiry?

Ball chain is that chain that keychains and the like have been made out of for years. I’ll bet some of you have seen this before – there are several videos online and “Mythbusters” included it in an episode.

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When I saw those videos I had ideas right away for an inquiry piece that would be fairly cheap and easy to do. I haven’t thought enough about it yet to match it to specific standards … but I’m always on the lookout for easy / quick ways to demo inquiry during professional development trainings I do and I saw potential for this right away.

This 250 foot roll came in a few weeks ago but I haven’t had a chance to try out my ideas yet – today not many folks are in the office, so I jumped at the chance to finally mess around with it and see how it works.

Before saying more let’s take a look – click the video below:


One thought I’ve already had besides, “So what exactly causes that to happen?” (is it somewhat on the same principle as a siphon? –  Not sure – just wondering) is to measure out lengths of the ball chain (10 meters say) and time how long it takes to empty the container. Then ask, “How long do you think it would take for say… 20 meters?” (exactly twice as long? … or does it speed up as it falls?) NOTE – I wouldn’t share that with students, let them decide and then in writing explain their thinking. So they need to time it precisely (do more than one trial at each length – probably 3).

Next keep adding lengths to the chain with the connectors and see if students can become accurate at predicting the exact time. AND – then start including various lengths of chain, like 17.4 meters … can they predict that? What math do they require to figure that out? Or involve fractions instead of decimals – “How long would it take 47 3/4 meters to empty?”

Does height play a role? Does it drop at a different rate from different heights? How would we figure that out?

I see lots of possibilities for this. When I get a chance to try this out with teachers and/or students I’ll let you know what I find out … OR – if you get there before me, let us all know in the comments. Any other ideas how this could be utilized as a learning activity?

BTW – I got that 250 foot roll you see in the photo online for $20 and a bag (50 at least) of the connectors for a couple dollars more. (#10 ball chain – it comes in various sizes – that would be another exploration – does different size chain fall at different speeds?)

Learning is messy!

RECON – Recruiting citizen scientists to explore the outer solar system!

I’ve been busy of late. This week is the NSTA conference, but last week I was included in a team being trained to be part of a project funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF) called RECON – Research and Education Cooperative Occultation Network.

Each of the initial 10 teams (which will expand to 40 during the project) was given a Celestron CPC1100 telescope, a  MallinCam B&W Special video camera and more. We spent 4 days last week training at the WNC Jack C. Davis Observatory in Carson City, Nevada. When we do our assigned/scheduled observations we will include middle and high school students in our teams and train them to set up and use the telescopes, cameras and other equipment, as well as the science behind the project. So the students will help collect the data for the project … sometimes at 2 or 3 in the morning!

Setting up telescopes for a practice observation as part of our training.

So exactly what will we be doing? From the project web site: “Our project will consist of a linked network of 10 telescope sites and eventually 40 sites, across the western United States. Each community participating in RECON will be expected to gather a team of 2-6 members. As a team member, you will be working within your community and collaborating with others in our network to collect astronomical data.”

And: “RECON – the Research and Education Cooperative Occultation Network – is a citizen science research project aimed at exploring the outer solar system. Funded by theNational Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Astronomical Sciences, this project involves teachers, students, amateur astronomers, and community members from across the Western United States to conduct coordinated telescope observations to measure the sizes of objects from a region called the Kuiper Belt. *

Our goal and mission is to measure the size of many trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs), while making authentic scientific research more accessible to local communities. We are discovering more about our solar system – and we couldn’t do it without the help of our citizen scientists. We’d love to have you on board – to get involved, please contact us.

*To find out more about the Kuiper Belt and our 500-km long citizen science observation network, visit our Project Description page.”

It will be interesting to see how I do at work the day after an early morning observation! Fortunately the observation site for my team is at an observatory less than a mile from my house. I’ll hopefully report back as we make observations … the first one should happen in May.

The Reno Recon telescope set up and ready to go as soon as it gets dark.

Learning is messy!